For a while earlier this year, Gov. John R. Kasich and his powerful and well-connected state and reelection campaign teams, did everything they could to eliminate any competition in the GOP primary. And they were successful, forcing the Libertarian Party of Ohio (LPO) gubernatorial candidate Charlie Earl off the ballot.
Polling earlier this year showed that with Earl in the race, Kasich’s race with Democratic challenger Ed FitzGerald at the time narrowed to a nearly toss-up election if Earl, as respected polling showed, could land 5-6 percent of the GOP voter base. Since then, FitzGerald has fallen so far behind, mostly at the hands of Buckeye news sources who have given Gov. Kasich one free pass after another while drilling down on the Democrat on his failure to obtain a valid drivers license and being found with a women not his wife in the early hours of the morning in the fall of 2012, that conventional wisdom now predicts Kasich wins big on Tuesday, Nov. 4, Election Day.
At the time, Earl assumed a lot of the responsibility for the missteps that paved the way for him and the LPO being eliminated from competing with Kasich, who relied on a friendly Republican legislature to protect him from the kind of harm Earl’s presence on the primary ballot would cause him; a primary that would have shown that he’s not as beloved among Ohioans as he or his supporters think he is. Any votes Earl could have garnered would have shown the Lord’s choice to run Ohio going forward wasn’t the shoe-in he or Ohio media, especially the state’s Big Eight newspapers, think he is. So when Earl didn’t make the ballot, Team Kasich dodged a potentially pesky thorn in its side.
Flash forward to Tuesday. Charlie Earl continues to be involved in a monumental legal struggle to be restored to the ballot for November’s elections. According to an email from LPO, Earl is now calling on Gov. Kasich to dismiss Terry Casey, a long-time friend and confidant who was awarded chairman of the State Personnel Board of Review. Casey, who worked on then-citizen Kasich’s 2010 campaign (which he won by only 77,127 votes statewide) is facing allegations from Earl and LPO that he is the individual who funded the assault on Earl’s candidacy.
The original case arose after petitions on behalf of Earl and Sherry Clark for governor and lieutenant governor, respectively, and Steven Linnabary for attorney general, were submitted and local boards of election determined that a sufficient number were valid, placing the LPO candidates on the May primary ballot, Sarah Matthews, LPO Communications Director, said Tuesday. Gregory Felsoci of Akron, a member of the LPO, then filed a protest which claimed that a number of the petitions were invalid because paid petitioners who collected the signatures did not disclose on the petition the name and address of the entity that paid them in the “employer identification box.” The LPO argued that this was unnecessary as the signature collectors were independent contractors, not employees of the party.
Felsoci was approached by Republican operatives through the law firm Zeiger, Tigges & Little, which contacted him and has represented him in making the protest. Felsoci, who a court document refers to as a “guileless dupe”, has said he was not paying the firm and did not know who was, but since then it has come to light that Mr. Casey, who LPO said “earns $66,000 per year and has little additional income”, has agreed to pay fees topping $100,000. Casey, LPO says, said he intends to solicit fellow Republicans for contributions to cover these costs.
Earl, Linnabary, and the LPO are asking Federal Judge Michael Watson to restore them to the ballot on the grounds that their removal was for partisan, as opposed to principled, reasons. The United States Constitution, LPO says, does not allow government officials to remove candidates from ballots for political reasons.
Earl said that Casey, by his actions, “has demonstrated that he is unfit to serve as Chair of the State Personnel Board of Review. Like many political ‘bag men’ and ‘fixers,’ he lacks the ethical compass to serve the people of Ohio.” If Casey possesses a scintilla of ethical probity, Matthews wrote, “he would resign and apologize to the people of Ohio for colluding to limit their voices and choices in Ohio’s electoral process … Since he won’t, we therefore call on Governor Kasich to dismiss Casey from the SPBoR and restore some measure of confidence in state government … We trust the Court will restore the LPO’s rightful place on the November ballot to give the citizens of Ohio a choice and a voice this election.”
Along with its co-plaintiffs, LPO has filed a motion to expedite trial. In its memorandum to the court, LPO alleges, among other things, that the Secretary of State’s office informed the LPO of the petition challenges when it was too late for Earl, his running mate Sherry Clark, or Libertarian candidate for Attorney General Steven Linnabary to run as write-in candidates as a matter of contingency.
LPO additionally states that a conflict of interest is also asserted in the Secretary of State’s selection of Professor Bradley A. Smith as hearing officer. Professor Smith was also representing GOP Attorney General Mike DeWine in a separate election law case before the United States Supreme Court at the time. Smith, who was paid nearly $20,000 for serving as the SOS’s special hearing officer, initially submitted a ruling that would have left Earl and Linnabary on the ballot, but swiftly changed his ruling after communicating with officials in Husted’s office.
“Stay tuned,” Earl said today, “We may not have heard the end of this yet. There may be more bugs hiding in the woodwork.” Discovery in the case continues, with Husted scheduled to be deposed by Libertarian counsel Thursday. Linnabary responded, “Running for office should not involve lawyers and the courts, but we live in Ohio where that is precisely what opposition candidates must do.”
The LPO, while it still battles Gov. Kasich, has something to show for its underdog efforts this fall. Thanks to the successful write-in campaign in the Libertarian Party primary, Ohio voters will see two other Libertarian candidates on the November ballot for statewide office: Bob Bridges, Political Director for the LPO, is running for Ohio Auditor and Kevin Knedler, Chair of the LPO Executive Committee, is running for office of Ohio Secretary of State.